Many Christians while watching a good nature documentary are awestruck by the majesty of creation and their hearts fall prostate before the creator of such ineffable splendour. This happened to me last year when I watched series one of the critically acclaimed David Attenborough documentary Planet Earth. I had seen clips online of the second series and I was blown away by the cinematic quality of it (the escape of the baby iguana was the worst horror I have ever seen) so I decided to go back and watch the first series. As I said, feeling a sense of worship while witnessing something truly majestic is expected of believers, what I noticed with this particular documentary series was the importance of music.
It isn’t something we usually take that much notice of when we watch film or television but music is so important to both media forms. I had not fully taken notice myself until fairly recently when I was thinking about why there was such a huge gap in quality between our local and regional films and international cinema. It dawned on me that we did not really produce original scores that fit the narrative being told and the placement of the rest of the music is often just awkward and clumsy. A soundtrack is meant to compliment and enhance the story being told primarily through a visual medium.
When you think about it, music is an essential component of storytelling in film and television. The music gives cues as to what is happening in the story as well as helping set the tone of scenes. Whether it is suspense, euphoria, anger, distress, realisation, or any number of different emotions or scenarios there is a sound for it and it is integral to the art form. Music, especially when it is expertly weaved into narrative, is very affective.
Planet Earth understood the power of music as a story telling tool and had an exquisite score. The music ebbed and flowed with the themes they pursued in each episode producing a seamless audiovisual experience. The music was an essential part of why I was overcome with adoration for the unsearchable wisdom of the one who had made such a magnificent world. When I realised that watching this documentary was a worship experience, it reminded me of the scene from Revelation 4 and 5. All the hosts of heaven and earth were in grand cosmic symphony exalting the Almighty and the victorious paschal Lamb. In that apocalyptic scene creation was making music to its Creator and that was precisely what I was witnessing in that documentary through its brilliant soundtrack.
The idea of an anthropomorphised natural world in worship is not unique to the Book of Revelation. In fact it is drawing from the Psalms and other older Jewish traditions. The trees clap their hands, the hills skip, the seas roar, and everything that has breath lifts its voice to the Lord in biblical lyrics. While this is certainly poetic metaphor we should remember metaphors are never mere. Modern cognitive psychology and linguistics have shown that metaphor and analogy are fundamental to how humans think and communicate. Metaphors represent reality and the reality is the sound of creation does communicate something to its creator. When a medical professional takes a stethoscope and listens to your chest cavity, it is an important diagnostic indicator of how your entire body is doing. They are listening for the sound of life, that the creature is functioning the way it is meant to be. I think the sound of creation would mean so much more to the Creator and that it actually says something meaningful to him.
N.T. Wright made a very profound comment that when humans worship we are articulating on the behalf of all creation its praise for its maker. It is not that we are translating the sound of creation so that it becomes intelligible to God. He knows the unique sound of the wings of each butterfly. More over there are things about creation that are just beyond us. Rather, because we are stewards of the creation God made to serve his purposes, we actually serve as worship leaders. So we are more like choir directors, ensuring creational harmony through the wise rule of the world God has entrusted us with and through our acts of devotion we sum up the praises of a grateful creation to its maker. While John of Patmos set the worship scene verbally, Planet Earth did the same with the full compliments of modern media technology.
As we have scene from these examples, worship in whatever manner it is expressed has an artistic quality to it. Now aesthetics is ordinarily thought of in visual terms but there is sonic beauty and the two go hand in hand. When you listen to Handel or Bach or any of the greatest composers their music stirs the imagination and you see through the sound, as if you are witnessing a scene unfolding before your very eyes. The converse is true for Planet Earth: the visuals inspired the sound. It just had to be set to such sublime and regal orchestral tones.
Now I doubt the narrator David Attenborough, the brilliant George Fenton who composed the score, or any of the production crew behind Planet Earth were Christians or even religious. So I certainly do not think they were counting on being worship leaders however, they were. They could not have produced such a fantastic piece of art unless they felt wonder and deemed it was of profound importance. The connection between awe, worship and music is very intimate and very old. Some of the oldest songs known to man are in reverence to deity. So it is not surprising that even unbelievers adopt such a reverential posture which believes full embrace as a call to worship.